Monthly Archives: May 2010

“Gusher In the Gulf”: BMac vs. BP, Pt. 3

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As noted elsewhere on this blog, Florida’s erstwhile Attorney General, former congressman Bill McCollum (R), has put himself firmly up front in taking the fight to British Petroleum on behalf of constituents slated to possibly lose everything as a result of the 4/20 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. He’d just recently sent BP officials a letter asking them to lift any and all caps on liability on their part for the damage caused by the oil spill, then followed that up (May 20) asking BP to assume liability for any damages that may occur if the oily Gulf waters are stirred up and thrown into the mainland by hurricane-force winds. (The Atlantic season begins in less than a week.)

After waiting four days to respond, BP’s Managing Attorney, Mark Holstein, dismissed the substance of McCollum’s concerns using the now-familiar tones of conceit and contempt that has defined his company’s public face during this crisis. “Your letter focuses on a concern that a hurrican event may result in oil washing further inland than otherwise would happen … Of course, we are not able to resolve today how BP would react to every hypothetical situation that might be considered in this regard,” he writes, before claiming theoretical obeisance to the outdated (and hopefully soon revised) Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

Whereas McCollum was once willing to express trust and confidence in BP, his response to Holstein, dated May 25, suggests that he now realizes what he’s dealing with–a concerted, top-down effort to cover-up the true extent of the damage, not to mention the increasing specter of real legal trouble for all companies involved. “I am … disturbed in both its tone and content,” McCollum writes. “The threat of oil being deposited inland by a tropical storm or hurricane is not a ‘hypothetical situation’ but an almost certainty. It is incredible that BP is not prepared to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the consequences of this devastating oil spill even at this late date.” He goes on to note “There is no statutory limit on BP’s liability for natural resource and other liability” under Florida Statutes.

As previously reported, that May 20 letter to BP referencing oil and hurricanes was the first formal acknowledgment of that awful possibility–an idea that has now attracted bipartisan concern. McCollum’s third letter to BP, dated May 25, raises a new and potentially explosive (literally) question: What is/was the extent of illegal labor activity in BP’s offshore business before and after the explosion? McCollum begins by referencing the case of 11 illegal aliens caught loading oil booms in Panama City May 19. They were apparently subcontracted through Eagle-SWS, a BP contractor based in Jacksonville. He notes that they were arrested for using stolen Social Security numbers on their applications–a crucial fact. Where did the stolen numbers come from? McCollum is probably looking into that right now.

“It is … essential that BP, to the maximum extent possible, retain local workers for response and recovery efforts, especially those whose livelihoods were disrupted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. For these individuals, the hiring of illegally present foreign nationals only serves to compound the economic catastrophe they are now experiencing.” Obviously, this is a big job, and the Gulf Coast needs all the able bodies it can muster for this hurculean clean-up effort; while one hopes the preference is given to the hundreds of thousands (at least) unemployed American laborers in the immediate vicinity, some of those job will inevitably go to illegals.

It’s unclear if Eagle-SWS was involved in any way in any of the work done on the rig. But if the job involved building materials (like concrete) in this region, odds are that illegals touched it at some point. If BP, Transocean, Halliburton or its contractors used a single illegal worker on the Deepwater Horizon, that is a huge  issue. If any illegals were involved in the actual work that led directly to the explosion (a matter still under investigation, assiduously blocked by BP), the legal issues for these companies increase exponentially. Other sources have noted that the foreign registrations of BP/Transocean, as well as the location of rig, left them with less regulatory oversight than American-based rigs; and, as is now clear, these companies violated what little regulations were in place.

This blog notes, at this point, that there were 126 workers officially on board the Deepwater Horizon when it blew up. 79 were employed by Transocean, 6 by BP, and 41 were contracted from elsewhere; all of them, particularly the 41 contract employees, maybe deserve another look by the relevant authorities. While the names of those killed were released, survivors have kept relatively quiet. One might assume the media would be quite eager to have any first-hand testimony or expertise at play. Instead, it’s as if anyone who ever worked an offshore rig started their summer vacations early. Also note that several BP executives were also on board the rig  at the time–celebrating its safety record, if such ironies are believable.

While McCollum’s own ambitions would have him elsewhere by the time legal maneuvers really get started, whomever holds the AG spot in 2011 will be poised to pursue massive civil and criminal charges against relevant personnel in the slimy stew of multinational corporations contributing to this debacle, which many have now declared to be the worst environmental catastrophe in American history. All things considered, we may all be lucky that the catastrophe wasn’t much worse than it turned out to be. And the fact that it could have been much worse should be reason enough for Americans to demand more oversight of these operations, literally from top to bottom.

sdh666@hotmail.com; May 26, 2010

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“Gusher In the Gulf”: BMac vs BP, Part 2

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Americans’ understanding of the Deepwater Horizon debacle has evolved quite a bit over the last month since the rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. What was originally written off as an insignificant trickle of negligible volume (and not even publicly announced until two days after it began) is now widely recognized as a catastrophe of near-boundless scope. Even the best efforts of BP to cover-up the reality of what has occurred, among the other corporations with a piece of this action–like Transocean, Hyundai, Halliburton, Nalco, Goldman Sachs and others–have failed to obscure what should now be obvious: Massive environmental destruction is upon us, and this is happening because of the corruption of these companies and the elected officials they’ve bribed into submission.

Even President Obama, who is legally empowered to immediately sweep in and take control of a disaster of this scale, has been looking extremely weak on the issue, as Congress scrambles to obscure their own complicity in allowing BP officials to believe they could flout  the conditions of their lease with impunity. It appears, so far, that they were right, but that has been widely documented elsewhere.

Florida’s Attorney General, Bill McCollum, was just one of the public officials to be embarrassed by BP in the early days of the debacle. When McCollum endorsed BP’s efforts at a) cleaning up the spill, and b) fairly compensating Floridians who stand to lose billions, he did so based on a conference call with AGs from Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi and cursory tour of the site. He was probably unaware, at the time, that BP was actively covering their own asses as he spoke; they made him look like he’d been paid off, which surely rankled.

McCollum has long been known as one of those pols who is always looking to move up. Barely an electoral cycle goes by without McCollum standing for some spot or other; he forfeited a very successful 20-year career in the House of Representatives to run, unsuccessfully, for the Senate seat won by Bill Nelson in 2000; four years later, he failed to win the seat won by Mel Martinez. As AG, he succeeded the much-maligned yet remarkably resilient Charlie Crist, who’s spent all year running for the Senate and has shown almost no tangible leadership during what should be a career-defining moment. Crist is certainly no Bobby Jindal–but Jindal, being an eyewitness to the post-Katrina fallout that tanked a number of political careers in his state, knows better than be project weakness (or, worse, distraction) in a crisis.

Of course, like his boss McCollum is also trying to do one job while running for another–Governor, again, this time against Florida CFO Alex Sink. His early, stupid endorsement of BP could have ended those aspirations, if our whole political system weren’t already greasy from BP’s largess. He has since reversed himself, in the grand Florida tradition, taking a position more like his original one: Don’t Trust BP!

To that end, he sent a letter to CEO Jack Lynch, dated May 20. He’s basically putting it out there now that the Gulf will still be full of oil as the summer hurrican season begins on June 1. Such a combination of potential factors has no known precedent, and it’s highly proactive of McCollum to put BP on the spot in advance about their massive potential liability. It’s worth noting, though, that at this writing BP has still not formally signed anything eliminating the existing cap on liability; that no one has yet forced them is, at best, suspicious.

BP Plays “Hide the Liability”, re: Gulf Coast

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The explosion that destroyed Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig and sent millions of gallons of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, where it currently threatens the livelihoods of thousands who make their living off the region’s fabled seafood life, has barely been investigated by authorities who are still powerless to stop the oil spill, nevermind discern its actual cause. As such, most of what the American People need to know remains unknown–the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns, to paraphrase former SecDef “Rummy” Rumseld.

These two seemingly contradictory press releases issued through the office of Bill McCollum, the Attorney General of Florida, point to the fundamental shadiness of the whole situation. On the 4th, McCollum clearly states that Floridians should “not … sign any settlement documents from any companies or corporations” until they know the full extent of what remains inestimable damage from a spill that hasn’t fully impacted land yet. By the 6th, McCollum has spoken with British Petroleum and basically endorsed the company’s settlement efforts, even though the company had not yet legally codified the non-cap on claims.

In other words, BP may be encouraging people to make settlement claims based on early, unvetted estimates, allowing them to pay citizens off for far less than their real damages may amount to. By the time the full scope of the damage is understood, BP, Transocean, Halliburton and other culpable parties may be able to offset their expenses based on claims already paid out. And you can be sure that the relevant paperwork–which McCollum wisely advised people not to sign, at first–will contain legally-binding language a) prohibiting revealing of key details about the claim, and b) indemnifying BP against any future lawsuits by the signee, which amounts to a cap on claims.

All this will enable a coverup that began while the initial fire was still burning, a process of concealing not only the cause of an explosion that killed 11 people, but also an environmental catastrophe that may severely undermine the currently fruitless efforts to reverse the declining US economy. Note that McCollum’s flip-flop developed after a conference call that also included the Attorney Generals of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, which means BP may have already gone a long way toward protecting their interests–and that’s more than can be said for the citizens of those states.

May 4, 2010
ATTORNEY GENERAL: FLORIDIANS AFFECTED BY DEEPWATER HORIZON OIL SPILL SHOULD BE BEWARE OF FRAUD

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Attorney General Bill McCollum today issued a consumer advisory regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident, encouraging Floridians to call the Attorney General’s fraud hotline at 1-866-966-7226 to report any incidents of fraud. Earlier today, Attorney General McCollum visited the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center in Pensacola and the Deepwater Horizon Unified Area Command Center in Mobile for briefings on emergency preparedness efforts in response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Today, I witnessed first-hand the catastrophic oil spill sitting just off Florida’s coastline,” said Attorney General McCollum. “As state officials and residents prepare for the impacts the Deepwater Horizon spill is expected to bring to Florida’s sensitive coastal areas and the state’s economy, my office will continue providing as much information as possible to Floridians so they can protect themselves and their rights from various types of fraud related to this disastrous spill.”

The Attorney General McCollum also cautioned all Florida residents to not waive any rights or sign any settlement documents from any companies or corporations until they know the full extent of their loss, which may be significantly higher than the money being offered initially. The Attorney General noted that these offers could be premature or even fraudulent.

Additionally, in what could be one of the most significant environmental clean-ups in Florida’s history, Attorney General McCollum clarified that Florida statutes provide no cap on recoveries related to natural resources. During the past weekend, Attorney General McCollum met with the Attorneys General of Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi to discuss a number of legal options to ensure costs and damages to Gulf coast states, businesses and residents are recouped.

Consumers can contact the Attorney General’s Fraud Hotline by calling the Attorney at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226) or by visiting the Attorney General’s website at http://www.myfloridalegal.com. Additional information on the State Emergency Response Team’s response efforts can be found at http://www.floridadisaster.org.

May 6, 2010
ATTORNEY GENERAL: BP AMERICA PROMISES QUICK, EFFICIENT CLAIMS PROCESS WITH NO CAPS ON PAYOUT

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced that the Attorneys General of the Gulf Coast states have been assured by the General Counsel of BP America that the company will memorialize its commitment to pay whatever is necessary to clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as well as to compensate the states and their citizens and businesses for any losses due to the spill. The Attorneys General were also provided with detailed information about the claims process for the individuals and small businesses impacted by the approaching oil spill.

“What happened at the Deepwater Horizon oil well was a tragedy, not only in that human life was lost, but also because of the devastating impacts this event will likely have on our environment and economy for years to come,” said Attorney General McCollum. “BP has assured us it will do whatever it takes to make our states and their citizens whole, and I encourage them to continue working diligently to make the claims process expedient and efficient so our citizens and businesses can see immediate relief.”

On a lengthy conference call with the Attorneys General of Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, the General Counsel for BP America outlined the action items the company would take at the request of the Attorneys General. The company will respond immediately to yesterday’s letter from the Attorneys General, memorializing the commitment to cover all costs of the incident, without regard to any potentially applicable statutory caps on recoveries. The company will also provide a written summary of the claims process to allow states to educate their citizens and businesses about how to make quick and efficient claims.

BP America has stated that checks for claims will be sent out within 48 hours of the initial claim report. Daily reports on the claims received and processed will also be provided to the states for review. The toll-free number for the Claims Line is 1-800-440-0858, and more information is available online at http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com

Jazz Fest preview: Von Barlow’s 2-night stand at European Street

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With the Jacksonville Jazz Festival entering its 30th year this May (27-31), a spotlight falls on one of the better jazz scenes in the south. Contrary to perception of the region as a cultural backwater, Northeast Florida boasts, among other things: nationally-ranked jazz education programs at UNF, FSCJ and DASOTA; a festival that’s drawn some of the all-time greats of jazz music; and dozens upon dozens of working musicians, active here and all over the country. It shouldn’t take a blindfold test to illustrate the skills on display, on a weekly basis, but it does. The jazz musicians don’t record as often, nor gig as regularly, as their peers in hip-hop or indie rock, and that has coupled with the general reluctance of local media (television, most egregiously) to feature regional artists to push everything back. Even the splendid Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra must fight for coverage. The significant economic boost generated by the festival each year (over $20 million in 2009) speaks to the efficacy of maintaining a higher profile for the music.

All the same, the music itself is excellent. Von Barlow is a fixture in all of this, swinging in his sixties with sidemen half his age and less; he’s one among a number of people (Patrick Evan is another example) who perform a pedagogical function on the bandstand. He picks good musicians, who get better through their involvement with him. That’s right in line with the jazz tradition as it relates to drummers. Art Blakey, Arthur Taylor, Max Roach, Mel Lewis and Buddy Rich stand out among those who made a point of putting over young talent in their bands.

Barlow’s trio with Eric Riehm and Lawrence Buckner provides the best regular jazz night anywhere within hundreds of miles when they work the Casbah in Avondale every Sunday. You’d seriously have to get on I-95 and drive north for hours, passing cities–Savannah, Atlanta, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Richmond, Baltimore–with great jazz scenes but no single group as good. Only in New York (or maybe Baltimore, and certainly New Orleans) would you find any jazz band that plays that hard, that long and with that level of finesse on a regular basis. In my opinion, anyway. Riehm is a beast on tenor, and Barlow’s broken so many sticks that trees cower in his presence.

A member of the jazz festival’s Hall of Fame, Barlow is playing two sets at the festival on Friday, the 28th, back-to-back at the Snyder Memorial Church. Von Barlow’s Jazz Journey–a larger, funkier group–plays at 6pm, followed at 8 by a tribute to longtime friend (and fellow Hall-of-Famer) Teddy Washington. The trio may also be playing the Hemming Plaza market that afternoon (10am-2pm), as usual, but there may actually be limits to Barlow’s herculean stamina. 

There will be two chances to see/hear Barlow prior to the festival, as they work a two-night stand at European Street earlier that week. E Street’s a local fixture, famed for its huge beer list, supplemented with awesome beer-cheese soup an array of meat-based fare. The locations at San Marco and Beach Boulevard feature live music; Barlow works the former often, with Buckner or Ricky Ravelo on bass and organist Scott Giddins. His Jazz Journey plays the Beach Blvd. location on Wednesday the 25th, then plays San Marco on the 26th. Bonus: Barlow’s raffling tickets to the Great American Jazz Piano Competition (which is Thursday, the 27th, at the Florida Theatre) each night.